The Inside Scoop on Allergies | Breathe Easier at Home
The crisp fall air is a welcome sign to many of us, especially allergy sufferers who are ready for those pesky summer pollen makers to wind down production. But as the temperatures begin their descent and we spend less time outdoors, the itchy eyes, sneezing, and stuffy noses could persist because of the allergens inside our own homes. Sticking to a consistent cleaning routine and altering your living spaces could help in the fight against year-round indoor allergies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans, on average, spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors. While we may not be able to control every indoor environment, we can certainly make an effort in our homes. We can start by reducing triggers from the most bothersome inside pollutants: house dust, dust mites, mold, and of course those lovable creatures that we choose to live with—our pets.
Start in the bedroom
If you or one of your family members have common allergy symptoms after staying indoors for many hours, the best place to start surveying and making changes is the bedroom, where we spend most of our time. If the results are effective there, then you can begin to implement the same measures throughout the rest of your home.
Have you ever thought about what’s in household dust? It’s a concoction of soil particles, clothing, carpet and furniture fibers, hair, pollen, pet dander (bits of fur and skin), insect parts, and our own dead skin cells. So it’s no wonder that it’s at top of the list and can make us sick.
Of course, the answer is dusting. It’s a neverending chore even for the neat freaks among us, but there are strategies that work. The first is to decrease surface area: downsize and clear the clutter. The least amount of furniture in your bedroom, the better. Cut down on knick-knacks, wall hangings and stuffed animals. Use window treatments that can be wiped down or frequently washed. Use a microfiber cloth or damp cloth to remove the dust, not just move it around. Cease using an overhead fan, which can keep stirring up dust and move it to places that are harder to see.
Another reason to tackle the bedroom first is because it is a favorite place for dust mites. According to CDC, most mites are found in bedding, where they spend up to a third of their lives. A typical mattress could harbor 100,000 to 10 million of these microscopic critters. They especially like to nest near humans because their food source is dead skin cells. Just thinking about sharing a bed with millions of bugs makes us uncomfortable enough, but if your body is sensitive to these mites (it’s actually their waste that triggers allergies), you may develop physical symptoms that will make you even more miserable while you sleep. Reduce these unwanted houseguests by using allergen-proof, wipeable covers for mattresses, box springs and pillows. Wash sheets and pillowcases in hot water at least once a week and consider changing from wool to nylon or cotton cellulose blankets.
Vacuuming once a week, with a high-quality HEPA filter attached, can help. Don’t forget baseboards, molding and windowsills. It’s a good idea to wear an N95 filter mask while you vacuum.
ACCORDING TO THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, AMERICANS, ON AVERAGE, SPEND AS MUCH AS 90 PERCENT OF THEIR TIME INDOORS. WHILE WE MAY NOT BE ABLE TO CONTROL EVERY INDOOR ENVIRONMENT, WE CAN CERTAINLY MAKE AN EFFORT IN OUR HOMES.
Focus on air quality
Dust mites can survive only in humid environments since they absorb moisture from the air. So focusing on air quality and proper humidity levels can also keep the population down. Carpet can trap moisture, and consequently more dust mites, which is why carpet may not be best for allergy sufferers (especially in areas with more moisture, such as the bathroom or basement). Using an air conditioner or dehumidifier can help keep humidity levels low, recommended between 30 and 50 percent.
High humidity is also a lead cause of mold. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America suggests reducing mold in your bedroom by checking windows for condensation and improving air flow by leaving interior doors open. Reduce mold in your bathroom and kitchen by using exhaust fans and regularly scouring sinks and tubs. Promote good air circulation in your laundry area, too, and never leave damp clothes lying around. While houseplants are thought to be good for our environment, they can also grow mold. Reducing the number of houseplants and not overwatering can help.
Allergens just seem determined to exist among us, whether outside or in. But when the outside comes in, that exacerbates the problem. Fall is the season for ragweed, thistle, goldenrod, and other weed pollens that can last until the first frost. The dry seasonal wind can often make these airborne allergens worse. Keep them outside where they belong by closing windows and applying caulk to gaps. If you know you have seasonal allergies and have been outside for a long time, change your clothes when you get home and wash them the same day so the pollen doesn’t have time to stick around inside.
Strategies for pet allergens
Most of us consider pets our family members and they spend just as much time indoors as we do. But their saliva and dander can trigger allergies, especially as the weather gets colder and they are inside more. Bathing pets weekly can help reduce their dander as well as any outside allergens they may carry inside. Allergists agree that avoidance is key with animal allergies, but most of us just can’t part with them for that long after they’ve already won our hearts. If your allergies persist, you can try keeping them out of your bedroom for at least some relief while you sleep. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water and vacuuming more often can also alleviate allergy symptoms triggered by pets.
As much as we don’t want to think about spending more time housecleaning, just knowing that the irritants that can keep us awake coughing, sneezing, and reaching for the Kleenex are often hidden from sight can motivate us to be more aggressive in keeping indoor allergens OUT of the picture. ✦
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